September 2011 Archives

Half a Brain

I was looking for something different to write about this week rather than just talking about diseases and such. Amazingly I came across this video: http://www.metacafe.com/watch/205285/amazing_kid_with_only_half_a_brain/ .

This kid had half of his brain removed after he was shot at a convenience store. More than his surgery to look normal again, I was more interested in what he could and could no longer do. In the sense of function or paralysis. Although, I could not find anything more on his condition. In the video, he is able to talk and move both of his hands.

Looking further into this I found this article: http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/girl-with-half-a-brain/. This is about a girl who was actually born without her right hemisphere. The interesting part about this one is that she has no disability because the left half of her brain rewired itself to take over for the loss that the right side left. They do think that she will be have a below average intelligence, but nothing to the extent that I had imagined.

This poses the question to me that perhaps all three pound of our brains are not actually needed for the abilities that we achieve. Perhaps thinking ourselves as more intelligent because of the size of our brain is actually irrelevant, but the complexity and developmental abilities is really what we should be proud of.

It would still be interesting to find out more about the boy from the accident. To see if his brain is doing something about the damage, and if he has any unseen disabilities. The second article talks about cases where one side of the brain is nonfunctional and it is removed, but the boy's was removed by chance. It would also be interesting to see if his IQ drops.

Cell phones cont.

As I was debating about what to research and write on this week, I realized that my last week's entry actually had nothing to do with neurology. The funny thing about it is that I had started off looking at this site: http://abcnews.go.com/US/cellphones-cancer-brain-cancers-spiked/story?id=13737320 But got distracted and wrote about bone loss. So this week I will continue with what I started, while actually incorporating the subject of neurobiology.

Baically this article says that the evidence is inconclusive. They say that people have not been using cell phones enough. I believe the real evidence will come out when my generation hits the age where brain cancer is a great risk and great concern. The people they are probably doing the research on now do not use cell phones as much as the people my age do. The whole point of this article, brain cancer numbers not rising, could be due to this also and they might increase when Generation Y hits their 70's.

They quote various studies that have a variety of results. Some say that there is no evidence, some say that cancer will be reduced in cell phone users, and others see a spike in two specific kinds of cancer: glioma and acoustic neurom. I find this interesting because cell phone manuals actually state that they should be held a few inches from the head while one is talking on them. Perhaps this is just a precaution though, incase this evidence is proven to be true.

I agree that only time will be able to tell if cell phones will indeed pose a risk to those who use it, but I believe that the brain is a very plastic machine and can handle it. The questions that I have been wondering about are if pregnant women should worry about using cell phones and if the risk for these cancers has decreased since the massive jump in popularity of texting.

Cell Phones-Good? Bad?

There is debate among the scientists researching the affects of cell phones on the people who carry them. The first site that I looked at discussed whether or not wear on phone one one's hip would cause bone loss. The results are conflicting. The Web MD site posted two separate articles. One stating that research has shown that in the number of men that they studied the bone mass of the hip on which they were carrying their phone was indeed smaller. However, it was not significant enough to make a solid conclusion. They speculated that this could be because their subjects were fairly young and not as prone to osteoporosis, and the older generation would see more of an effect on their bones from the use of the portable phones.

The second article countered this saying that the same waves that cellphones give off are actually used to treat patients that have bone related injuries, such as osteoporosis and broken bones. On the other hand, the waves from cell phones are at a much higher frequency than are the waves that are used to heal. The main specialist quoted in this article said that there is actually no other research to support this, but that all the time and money is going into researching about cell phones and their effects on brain tumors or brain cancers. Even for this research, though, a totally conclusive result is probably years off.

I hope that neither of these articles are true, considering how much I use my cell phone, and that I carry it in the pocket of my jeans at all times.However, if the same waves that cell phones give off are used to help heal bones I have faith that when the real and concrete results do come out, that my skull, hips, and brain are safe from damage. I would also like to find out if texting is going to lead to an increase in arthritis in my generation. Only time will tell.

http://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/news/20091027/cell-phone-on-hip-may-weaken-bone

Smoking and Alzheimer's

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Today during Bio Psych class we were discussing synapses and how drugs affect receptors. Professor Ratliff-Crain mentioned that nicotine helps to clear the brain and produce clearer thinking. Then he said that smoking is actually linked to reduced Alzheimer's. After hearing that I knew I had to look into it. It was surprisingly easy to find an article that supported his claim.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101013095331.htm

This article from Science Daily describes how researchers have found that the Alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor is a good target for beginning research on preventing or treating Alzheimer's. It has been rumored that smokers are less likely to develop Alzheimer's than non-smokers; this is what Dr. Hey-Kyoung Lee and her team based their research off of.

First they started by looking at what they thought caused Alzheimer's: an enzyme called BACE1 which produces A-beta. However, knocking out BACE1 altogether caused mice to become confused and aggressive. So they looked on.That is where Alpha7 comes into play. They found that when this receptor is stimulated, the mice are returned normal brain function (the BACE1 knockout mice, that is). This receptor is stimulated with nicotine. Since no doctor wants to prescribe their patients cigarettes, however, more research will need to be conducted and a drug produced in order for this to go to the market.

I am hopeful, though, that by the time I have to worry about dementia and Alzheimer's a cure will have been found and I can live a peaceful life on my porch. Just sitting in my rocking chair and remembering the good times.

Parkinson's Disease

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The earliest memories of I have of Parkinson's Disease (PD) is watching Back to the Future, one of my favorite movies, and having it explained to me that Marty had a disease that made him twitchy. As I grew, I came to the understanding, wrongly so, that Parkinson's was a result of a loss of the myelin sheath on axons. In high school I did a mini presentation on the disease and discovered that it is actually a loss of dopamine producers in the brain which result in a less control of muscle movements.

Today, I wanted to find out what research advancements have occurred since I last explored this area. I have found that many researchers think that environmental factors may play a big role in the development of Parkinson's Disease. This particular paper (http://www.plosgenetics.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pgen.1002237) set out to prove that coffee had an effect on the chance one had of getting Parkinson's. However, they found that one had to have a variation in the glutamate-receptor gene GRIN2A, a gene that is involved with regulating motor control, and be a heavy coffee drinking in order to increase one's chances. Evidence that they believe to prove it is not just genes or environment but both working together that produce PD. Note that they do not say that if one does not have this variation and is not a heavy coffee drinker one will not get PD, they are saying one has a lesser chance.

These researches did the study multiple times and reduced their participants to just heavy and light (no mediums) in order to achieve their findings. I am still a little skeptical on what they believe they have found. I think that it might just be a coincidence or that one of their two conditions is the real culprit. However, if they did, in fact, discover something very important about either the relation of a certain gene to developing this disease, or the link to coffee (or perhaps the combination of the two) like they believe, then I hope a cure is soon underway.

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